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Inventing Legal Concepts To Execute: The Unfairness Of The Dachau Trial by John Wear

The Dachau trial, which began on November 15, 1945 and ended four weeks later on December 13, tried Germans stationed at Dachau for war crimes during World War II. All 40 of the defendants in this trial were convicted, with 36 of the defendants being sentenced to death by hanging.[1] This article examines whether or not the defendants at the Dachau trial received a fair hearing. The Dachau tribunal was composed of eight senior U.S. military officers with the rank of at least full colonel. The president of the court, Brig. Gen. John M. Lentz, was the former commanding general of the 3rd Army’s 87th Infantry Division.[2] These U.S. military officers with no formal legal training were not qualified to objectively review the evidence presented in the trial. William Denson, the chief prosecuting attorney, used the legal concept of common design for establishing that camp personnel at Dachau were guilty of violating the laws and usages of war. The Dachau tribunal accepted Denson’s legal concept of common design. In common design, Denson had discovered a legal concept wide enough to apply to everyone who had worked in Dachau.[3] In essence, the Dachau defendants were all assumed to be guilty unless proven innocent.

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